Martin Lewis: Seven consumer rights rules we all need to know

Consumer rights aren’t just for Christmas, they’re worth knowing all year round. Yet as the backwash of Black Friday fades, and the calendar canters on towards the January sales, this is a key time to understand shopping rights and wrongs. So here are my seven key need-to-knows.
Thousands of customers queued to pick up bargains on Black Friday, but how many of them knew their consumer rights? PHOTO: Rui Vieria / PAThousands of customers queued to pick up bargains on Black Friday, but how many of them knew their consumer rights? PHOTO: Rui Vieria / PA
Thousands of customers queued to pick up bargains on Black Friday, but how many of them knew their consumer rights? PHOTO: Rui Vieria / PA

You don’t have a right to change your mind – so don’t assume you can take it back. Whenever I say this, jaws drop and people look at me askance. Yet it’s important to know conventional wisdom is wrong here. Buy goods in-store and you have no legal right to return them if you change your mind, if it’s the wrong colour, or you got the wrong size.

You may have a contractual right, but only if the store has a published ‘returns policy’, for example ‘you can exchange within 30 days’. If so then that is enforceable, but stores don’t have to offer this – and some don’t.

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Buy online and you can change your mind. Online shoppers have more rights. The Consumer Contract Regulations 2013 state that unless goods are personalised or perishable you have the right to send them back whether they’re faulty or not (even if you’ve opened the box).

You have up to 14 days after you receive an item to notify the site you are returning it, and then up to 14 days after that to send it back. Therefore a total maximum 28 days. You should also get a refund of your original lowest postage payment (i.e. not if you paid more for express postage).

Though you can be asked to pay for the return postage, so before you buy you might want to check where you have to send the item back to beforehand, as some online goods can come even as far afield as China and sending goods back may cost more than you paid in the first place.

If goods are faulty you have a right to a full refund from the store/site you bought from. If goods are faulty, then you’ve 30 days to return them to get a full refund. Leave it later and you’re entitled to either a replacement or a partial refund.

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And as your legal contract is with the store you bought the item from it’s their responsibility to sort it out. Some try and fob you off to the manufacturer, but it’s the retailer’s job to put it right. This applies even if you have a warranty – that’s just extra prot-ection, for when you don’t have these statutory (i.e. legal) rights.

Is it faulty – not if you’re a SAD FART. Over the last decade many have shouted SAD FART at me in the street. Thankfully, mostly because they know it’s my mnemonic phrase for remembering your consumer rights – I’ve even heard some law classes now teach it.

All goods should be of Satisfactory quality As Described, Fit for purpose And last a Reasonable length of Time. If not, they’re faulty, and that means you’ve strong legal rights.

The tricky concept is ‘goods must last a reasonable length of time’ – if not, they were faulty when bought. What’s reasonable? It depends on the item, e.g. I’d say a 10p whistle breaking after 6 months use is reasonable, but the same with a £500 TV isn’t.

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You don’t need a receipt to return faulty items. The law just requires proof of purchase. A receipt is easiest, but if not a credit card or bank statement may provide the evidence needed.

However if goods aren’t faulty, many stores do require a receipt to return them. And then, as they are being generous to allow returns at all, if they say jump up and down and call me Tigger to get your money back, be prepared to bounce.

Your legal rights are the same in the sales / discounted items. Even when things are discounted, you’ve the same rights if goods are faulty. Yet if they’re not faulty, you’re again reliant on the store’s own policy, and some suspend their usual return rights in the sales, so check before you buy.

The same applies if you’re buying second-hand – provided you’re buying them from a trader (someone who buys and sells for a living, not a private individual selling personal items). The only difference is there can be a lower expectation of what is ‘satisfactory quality.’

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You don’t have a right to return gifts. Technically it’s the person who bought it who the contract is with, so they have to exchange it, not you. However, if you have a gift receipt, or the buyer writes it’s a gift and who it’s for on both receipts (i.e. the store one as well), then this transfers rights. Luckily, most stores do it anyway, but legally there’s no right.

And finally, if you’re struggling with consumer rights, call Consumer Direct helpline on 03454 04 05 06.

Martin Lewis is the Founder and Chair of

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